Food here can cost as little as $0.5-3 dollars in the right places, and give you serious mouthgasms. Phở, Bánh mì, Bánh xèo: street food is everywhere, cooked/prepared right in front of you by a smiling vendor who’ll be ready to pick up their cart and wheel it away until the next meal time comes around. People from all walks of life will sit together in make-shift restaurants that devour entire pavements, squatting on tiny kiddie chairs while artfully shovelling noodles into their mouths. That’s not to say the Vietnamese aren’t into restaurants. There are a lot of fancy places here with fancy prices; a lot of trendy places that I have made a mental note of frequenting; a lot of back-packer places that reek of excess, booze buckets and solicitations; commercial ventures such as KFC and Pizza Huts that, well, taste like KFC and Pizza Hut; Pineapple pushers, corn-on-the-cob cookers, roti rustlers; Glowing beacons of drunken-hunger hope called ‘Circle K’ (convenience stores), which offer customers a ‘salty duck egg’ for their trouble. There’s a lot of food here. And a whole lot of variety.
A little information about the big breakfast food here: Bánh mì. It’s basically a modestly-sized crusty baguette with egg, pate, vegetables and soy & chilli sauce. The word Bánh generally stands for various kinds of baked goods, whilst Bánh mì specifically leans towards the French-stlye baguette introduced here when Vietnam was colonised by French rule. The Vietnamese go nuts for bread and bakeries. Instead of McDonalds you’ve got these cute little French patissieres called ‘Tous Les Jours’ basically everywhere in HCMC. They sell donuts, croissants, english muffins, loaves, buns; the smell is intoxicating as is the tempation too easy. And, well, isn’t that just a step up on the ‘classy scale’ when it comes to convenience food? (I’m looking at you Greggs).
There’s one lady I regularly buy my usual breakfast of ‘Headspeath’-variation Bánh mì from. (She stands with her cart in front of a local high school, preparing these egg-sandwiches at mach speed as the qeue for her delights grow longer. Like a street food ninja you see her expert method. First, she greets you with a nod, smile and hello, picking out a baguette from the large row placed along the top of the cart. Then, she picks up an egg and asks you “egg?” with a slight tilt of the head – unless you’re allergic, you damn well say yes. Then she cracks it into a mini-wok half-filled with cooking oil, and prepares that egg sunny-side up right before your eyes. Now comes the fun part. On display in this cart is every possible ingredient that could go into a Banh Mi; liver pate (duh), pork (optional), meatballs (if you’re feeling meaty), laughing cow cheese (unconventional, but it works a treat), cucumber (makes me gag personally, but each to their own), salad (5 a day), coriander (pretty strong stuff, but ties it all together), soy sauce (SE asian salt, yo) and of course a wee splash of hot sauce to put some zing in your zap. Then, after that sizzling fried egg slips into place, she wraps a small bit of paper round it with a rubber band (holding all the juicy contents together for your eating pleasure) and places it inside a cute little plastic bag (perfect for catching al those potential bite-spurts that could ruin your shirt). And what does it taste like? A myriad of savoury flavours, colours and textures that truly become associated with breakfast after a few days here. All for under $1. Move over coco pops.